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Stool Color Changes (cont.)

What are the symptoms associated with stool color changes?

The symptoms associated with changes in the color of stool generally correspond to the underlying cause. In many instances, there may not be any symptoms associated with changes in the color of stool.

Bleeding from the gastrointestinal tract (esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine) leading to red, maroon, or black tarry stools may at times be without any symptoms at all. Other times, these changes may have accompanying symptoms of:

  1. abdominal pain due to the underlying cause of the bleeding, for example, an ulcer;
  2. nausea, vomiting of blood, diarrhea, and cramping due to the presence of blood in the stomach and/or intestines; and
  3. weakness, lightheadedness, and dizziness, due to the loss of blood from the body.

Persistently gray or clay-colored stools suggest some type of obstruction to the flow of bile. Obstruction caused by gallstones usually is associated with pain on the right side of the abdomen. However, cancer of the bile duct or cancer of the head of pancreas, which also can cause obstruction to the flow of bile by pressing on the bile duct, may not be associated with abdominal pain unless the tumor is large. The obstruction to the flow of bile causes backup of bile into the blood resulting in yellowness of skin and eyes that is referred to as jaundice.

Yellow stool as a result of undigested fat also may occur with no symptoms. If present, the most common symptom associated with yellow stool will be abdominal pain as a result of chronic pancreatitis, tumor of the pancreas, or obstruction of the pancreatic duct. Undigested fat can also produce flatulence (gas) and loose, foul smelling stools.

What kind of doctor treats stool color changes?

The evaluation of conditions such as intestinal bleeding or diseases of the pancreas, gallbladder, or liver, may warrant careful evaluation by an internist, a primary care physician, internal medicine physician, general surgeon, or a gastroenterologist (a physician specialized in disease of the stomach and the intestines).

When should I seek medical care for stool color changes?

A person should notify their doctor when there is a persistent change in the color of their stool.

Persistent black, tarry stools or red, bloody stools signify intestinal bleeding and need to be evaluated by a health-care professional promptly. Individuals should either notify their primary care doctor or visit an urgent care center or an emergency room.

Gray or clay-colored stool and yellow stool also may signify diseases of the pancreas, gallbladder, or the liver. The evaluation of these conditions may warrant careful evaluation by an internist, primary care physician, or a gastroenterologist (a physician specialized in disease of the stomach and the intestines).

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/16/2015
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